Tag Archives: challenge

Dear Scotland

The River Ness. If I were that way inclined, I would say
The River Ness. If I were that way inclined, I would say “#nofilter”, but that makes me feel a bit sick

Dear Scotland,

I love you.  You know that, don’t you?  I always have.  Ever since we first met, on a windswept and sulk-filled family holiday in 1999, you have amazed me.

I learned to ride my bike that year, do you remember?  My parents dragged the family up to a self-catered cottage for the Autumn half-term holiday.  It was a ramshackle building in the middle of a country estate, and an outlandish decision that baffled all of us at the time.  It was cold and miserable and the sheep had worryingly intelligent eyes, and I remember all of us desperately trying to find stuff to do.  I was ten years old, and I’d never learned to ride a bike.  You gave me the opportunity.

My hands kept going numb – either because I was cold, or because I thought that having a vice-like grip on the handlebars would help – and I was scared.  Every time I fell off, crashed into a tree or scraped my hands on the stones, I got back up and looked down the track.  I thought that stretch of road would go on forever.  There was always more space for me to practise.  I could learn; I could get better.  And I did.

You bring out that side of me, you see.  The hard-working, screw-you-adversity, I-am-the-master-of-my-fate side.  Remember the first time I did the Edinburgh Fringe?  Wowee.  What a hectic month that was.  You gave me an enormous challenge and I rose to it, because I knew you were worth the effort.  Every year since then, the Fringe has been a welcome whirlwind, and every year I take away something new.  Hey – remember last year when I fell in love with climbing after going up Arthur’s Seat?  Bizarre, wasn’t it?  But that’s why we work so well: you can always surprise me.

Besides, you always seem to know what’s best for me.  For example, the complete lack of phone signal makes me appreciate my surroundings, which is great when I’m visiting my friends in Inverness.  Instead of worrying about emails and bills and responsibilities in London, I get to relax and spend time with some of my favourite people on the planet.  This weekend was great, by the way.  Thanks for being so sunny and gorgeous.

I wish that we could spend more time together, but despite how much fun we always have, I’ve got to stick with London.  At least for now.  But thank you for always being there for me.  Thank you for being such a great home for my little brother and sister.  Thank you for being unapologetic, full of bizarre people, chilly, beautiful and – unlike everywhere within spitting distance of London – reasonably priced.

Love,

Vicki

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QUALIFIED

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Hello, lovely reader!  How are you doing?

After an absolutely glorious run of preview performances, Tumbling After (the show I’m directing) is now ready to undergo some nips, tucks and general tidying before we take it to the Edinburgh Fringe.  I’d like to say an enormous, heartfelt, cuddly thank you to everyone who has contributed their time, money and energy in order to get this show together.  It has been and continues to be an absolute blast.

Putting on a show is a very demanding process, and it tends to rob you of free time (and clean clothes, sleep, a social life and verbal dexterity).  Now that previews are done, I’ve managed to catch up on most of these things, so I’m free to tell you all about my exciting new project: QUALIFIED.

I guarantee you that you could hand me my best friend’s CV and, apart from the name at the top, I wouldn’t recognise a single syllable of it.  This is because the things that we are most proud of, or that our friends know us for, are not necessarily the things that employers need to know.  Our CVs are not just edited descriptions of our lives: they are censored, trimmed and tarted up to make us seem like consummate professionals who’ve never experienced a moment’s uncertainty.  This is all fine for the world of work, but in real life we are so much more than the sum of our A Levels.

Real-life qualifications are definitely something to be proud of, but I don’t think they mean anything when compared with everything else we can achieve as human beings.  The love you show to people, the difficult situations you endure and the challenges you rise to meet are all integral to your identity, but how on earth do you fit them into “hobbies and interests”?  We’re qualified for all sorts of things that have nothing to do with work.

With that in mind, I have decided to start a series of interviews on this blog, asking people what they are most proud of in their lives.  Some of them will, I’m sure, be CV suitable – but I’m really looking forward to finding out about some of the less employment-relevant ones.  First up will be fashion designer and all-round wonder woman Cieranne Kennedy-Bell of CKB Vintage – look out for that interview on Friday.

I’d love to hear from people from all walks of life, so if you’d like to get involved with this project, please leave me a comment on this post and feel free to spread the word!

Have a gorgeous Thursday.  Your hair looks tremendous, by the way.

Bye Bye, Bag End

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Hello, you lovely thing.  Are you excited about your weekend?

This post is one that I’ve been avoiding for a while, because I think it’s going to be pretty difficult to write.  The subject matter makes me want to cry and stamp my feet, so do bear with me.  If I start getting hysterical just throw a biscuit at me or something.

At the end of this month, Ash and I will be vacating our beloved flat.  We’ve been living in Bag End for a year, and we’ve had an amazing time here.  We have had lots of lovely friends round to visit, hosted parties that defy the (minuscule) proportions of the floor space, danced around the kitchen to cheesy music, spilled coffee everywhere , had heart to hearts in the middle of the night and eaten unholy amounts of cheese.  It’s been bloody brilliant.

When we leave Bag End Ash will be moving home to save up for her trip to New York, and I will be moving to South London with one of my sisters.  Both of these are excellent and exciting things, but they are big changes.  I freaking hate changes.

Change is difficult for a lot of people to cope with because it involves uncertainty, which is something that humans are not wired to cope with very well.  We fear things like death and the dark because they represent obscurity: we have no way of knowing what they contain.  It’s the same with big changes.  How on earth can we be happy about them when we don’t know what they’ll entail?

It also comes down to a control and participation issue.  When we voluntarily make decisions that affect change, we can be happy because we’ve elected them.  Booking trips abroad, starting a new job and getting into relationships all fall into this category.  Being forced into change by other people’s decisions or circumstances beyond our control creates the opposite feeling: why should we have to participate in changes that we never wanted?  Why should we be forced into changing jobs, moving house or changing our relationship status?  If I may paraphrase William Ernest Henley’s poem slightly: “I am the master of my Facebook profile; I am the captain of my post code.”

I have realised that the trick to dealing with unwanted change is to look at it as an adventure rather than a crisis.  Bilbo Baggins didn’t want to leave Bag End any more than I do, but he went on to have a very jolly time.  (You know, except for the orcs and the massive spiders and stealing treasure from a dragon and everything.)  If we are never forced out of our comfort zones we never get to explore who we are or challenge ourselves, and both of those are very important things to do.

The other thing is that if we choose to look at enforced life changes in a negative way, it won’t affect any of the outcomes.  When we choose resentment over optimism we are only hurting ourselves.  Universal justice, fate, God or whatever life-affecting force you believe in probably doesn’t respond to sulking.

With that in mind, I’m going to start packing up my stuff.  I am choosing to look at this as an opportunity to re-alphabetise my books (which may sound like a pretty tremulous silver lining, but that kind of thing genuinely matters to me, because I’m a nerd).  Have a glorious weekend.

The End of Summer Lovin’

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Hello and how on earth are you, dear reader?

Back in February I wrote this blog post about how to beat the winter blues, and it occurred to me the other day that the end of summer needs some similar attention.  Like Sandy and Danny at the beginning of Grease (excuse me, but even if they hadn’t seen each other, they would definitely have heard each other singing about their summer of love), we can all get a bit blue about the end of summer.  I don’t know whether it’s the weird weather or extracting ourselves from the Edinburgh Fringe bubble, but there’s a definite back-to-school, oh-God-do-we-have-to, I-hate-my-alarm-clock-why-is-it-such-a-bastard sort of mood going on in my social circle at the moment.

So, in the spirit of cheering you up at the end of what I hope has been a spectacular summer, here are a few little things we can all do to put ourselves back in a sunshiney mood:

1) Dance around your living room 
Stick on a song that makes you happy and just have a boogie.  Look like an idiot.  Throw your back out if you have to.  You ARE the dancing queen (or king).  My personal recommendations for feel-good tunes include Classic and When Can I See You Again.  And Dancing Queen, obviously.

2) Book something
Organise a coffee date with a friend, or a real date with someone you fancy.  Book that trip you and your mates keep talking about.  Splash out on theatre tickets.  Basically, pick something that would make you happy and make it happen soon.

3) Challenge yourself
Get cracking on something that’s been lingering on your “I could probably do that” list.  For example, my next challenge is going to be writing a radio play.  I have no idea how to do that, but I’m going to find out.  Whether it’s something a bit grown-up liking saving up for a house deposit, or something a bit crazy like climbing a mountain, use this time to rise to a challenge.

4) Find the funny
Look up silly jokes, or go and see a comedian you’ve never heard of.  Watch a classic comedy film.  Let your friends drag you to an open mic night.  As the late, great Charlie Chaplin once said, “a day without laughter is a day wasted”.

5) Spruce up
Look your best.  Not because you’re not perfect the way you are, but because it will make you feel more confident.  Dress up for your next night out.  Wear your favourite pair of shoes tomorrow.  The world deserves to see you looking happy and brim full of self-esteem because, after all, whose day would not be brightened by seeing you looking fabulous?

Aaaaaaaay Macarena!

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Good morning, and a very merry Sunday to you!  I’ve just put the kettle on.  Do you take sugar?

Last night a friend and I went to a dance performance at Sadler’s Wells.  My friend is a ballerina and all-round dance expert, whereas my knowledge of dance extends as far as the Macarena, so the experience was a new one for me.

When we left the theatre after the show, I genuinely had no idea what I thought of the piece.  I have never, ever left a theatre without having formed a strong opinion on what I’ve just seen, so I was a bit discombobulated by this turn of events.  As far as I could see, the show was an extremely well-executed performance of the bleep test, combined with some energetic writhing.  That is not an insult to the show or the performers in any way; I’m sure that to a fan of dance the piece was extraordinary.  But I am not a dance fan.  I’m a words girl.  I can’t feel anything about a show that doesn’t have any words in it.

Bizarrely, the friend I saw the show with had the opposite view.  To quote her directly, “I don’t want to hear words.  Tell me the story with your bodies!”  This confuses me slightly because she did a Drama degree…the same one that I did, in fact, which is how we met.  And there were, as I recall, a fair few words involved in that.

I love going to the theatre with people whose views are so different to mine.  I have a friend whom I go to the theatre with quite regularly, and we nearly always agree on what we like and dislike about performances, which is great.  It’s always nice to have your opinions validated by someone you like and respect.  But it’s also a lot of fun to expose yourself to the weird and wonderful, and to try to see something you care about (i.e. performance) through someone else’ eyes.  I’m not saying that everyone should love every genre of performance, but it’s good to challenge ourselves a bit from time to time.  Go and see that show you’re not so sure about, or read that book that’s had mixed reviews.

But first, have a coffee and relax a bit.  It is Sunday, after all.

“I Made A Friend!”

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Good morning, and congratulations on making it all the way to Friday!  I hope your week has been productive and filled with first-rate conversation.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2012 was one of the most challenging, stressful, enjoyable and amazing experiences of my life so far.  Of the many things I took away from that month of madness, the one I think I am most pleased about is that it taught me to be happy about going to the theatre by myself.  Don’t get me wrong, I almost always go to the theatre with a friend – in a few hours I am off to see Titus Andronicus with one of my best friends from university, in fact – but at the Fringe you see four or five shows a day, and it’s impossible for everyone to see everything they want to unless they split up.

A few months ago I went to see 1984 at the Almeida Theatre, and I went by myself.  An unexpectedly joyous side effect of this excursion was that I got chatting to the chap sitting next to me, who turned out to be an actor with whom I got on very well.  I came home to my flat mate that night saying “I made a friend!” in the excited tones of a six year-old girl, which amused her greatly.  However, she went to a vlogging event today where she had exactly the same experience, and it was lovely to hear her gleeful description of making a brand new friend in her mid-twenties.

We all have friends from various walks of life: primary and secondary school, college, university, work, and in my case, a summer school for gifted and talented teenagers (I’ll tell you about it later).  These people have seen us grow up and go from being starry-eyed youngsters to bleary-eyed adults.  They have been with us through crises, triumphs, boredom, hangovers, exams, dinner parties and summer days in the park.  A shared history with a friend is a wonderful thing.

The thing about these friends is that they have known you for long enough to make an educated assessment of how much they like you and want to spend time with you.  They have years of experience of your whims and ways under their belts, so to a certain extent you know that they have a firm grasp of who you are deep down.  Someone you went to Brownies with is not going to judge you based on a moment of verbal incontinence that happens in your twenties, for example.

Making friends as an adult – whether they’re a new colleague or a stranger at the theatre – is an added bonus to the strange situations life throws at us, because these fully-formed people meet you and make a judgement about being friends with you based purely on who you are now.  They don’t know anything you’ve done in the past, the places you’ve travelled to or the greatest successes you’ve had.  They decide to like you based entirely on what you say and do in that first moment of meeting, and that is just brilliant.

Your friends are absolutely right to love you for who you have been, but your new friends are equally correct in liking you for who you are now.  Clearly, the result of your endeavours to become a proper grown-up person have worked a lot better than you could have imagined.

Have a genuinely spectacular Friday.

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Good afternoon, you lovely thing.  Sorry this post wasn’t written earlier; it’s been a bit of an odd day.

One of the biggest side effects of my mental health condition is feeling disconnected from reality.  I could be sitting in the middle of a pub with a large group of friends, talking, laughing and (not naming any names) burping, and still feel as though I am sitting in a bubble that prevents me from engaging with my surroundings.  This is, as I’m sure you can appreciate, a horrendously irritating state of affairs.

That’s not to say that I am alone in feeling this way.  Whether or not you suffer from a mental health disorder, we all have times when we feel cut off from the best and most fun things in our lives.  This might be because of stress, tiredness or even just having a short attention span, but the biggest challenge that all of us face at times like these is not to accept the disrupted connection.  We have to renew our efforts and keep trying to break through the bubble.  There are people on the other side of it who want to connect with us.

When I am feeling (for want of a more technical word) “bubbled”, it is as though I am sitting in the bottom of a pit and the people I love are standing around the edge of it, leaning down to me waving various potential remedies.  Sometimes it’s my lovely house mate Ash, who will be holding diet coke and offering me a hug; at other times it’s my uni lads, who usually come bearing cider and silly voices.  A lot of the time it’s my theatre company team Harry and Jules, who wave production meeting notes and coffee at me in an attempt to lure me out of the pit.  As you can see, beverages are a big factor in my recovery from feeling “bubbled”, but I’m not sure why…

There is a line that connects you individually to all of the people who love you, and that connection doesn’t go away, even when you feel completely isolated from them.  They hold onto the line very tightly when they need you, and they want you to hold on just as tightly when you’ve fallen into your pit.  If you have the courage and the humility to say “help me” when you’re totally lost, they will combine their efforts to support you and get you the heck out of the pit.  They don’t want you to be stuck in there, because when it’s their turn to fall down in one, they’ll need you.  Also (in my case at least) it’s just not practical for you to live in a hole in the ground.  How can anyone run a theatre company from down there?

Sorry about the mixed metaphors and similes; whatever you’re up to today, I hope that you feel neither bubbled nor pitted.  If you are, then let your loved ones haul you out.  They are quite right to want you around.

I’m Going to Weigh in Here…

Hello, you fabulous creature.  I hope your week is progressing as smoothly as a well-made batch of Angel Delight.

As pretty much everyone who has Facebook will already know, there’s a huge trend at the moment where women across the UK and North America (and presumably beyond, by now) take pictures of themselves without make-up on, and post them online to raise awareness of cancer.  Some people love this idea, some people hate it, and some people think all selfies are stupid.  Want to hear what I think?  Of course you do, you legend.  That’s why you’re here.

Right, let’s dive in: first of all, where did this craze come from?  Kim Novak’s appearance at the Academy Awards created a bit of a stir, with people criticising her for having had extensive plastic surgery.  According to the Guardian, Novak “has also made headlines in the press for diagnoses of breast cancer (2010) and bipolar disorder (2012).”  Not sure that dragging up the other two worst periods of Novak’s life is fair when she’s already having a crap time, but whatever.

I personally don’t agree with plastic surgery in most circumstances, but I would never presume to judge another person for their views on it, which obviously includes people who have actually had surgery.  It’s their body, so it’s their business.  So let’s just make one thing clear before we crack on: the people who judged Novak for her apparent surgery are absolute scum.  Judging someone based on their appearance perpetuates body dysmorphia, adolescent misery and unrealistic beauty standards across the Western hemisphere.  Her critics are a bunch of malicious asshats, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

Next up: the initial reaction.  The author Laura Lippman was mortified by how people were treating Novak, so she posted a picture of herself without make-up to show solidarity with Novak, and the natural beauty of women in general.  Fair enough.  First of all, I get what Lippman was trying to do, but has anyone pointed out to her that not wearing make-up and feeling the need to have plastic surgery are not the same thing (and are, in fact, sort of opposites)?  Just a thought.  I really do appreciate Lippman’s intentions, but I think she made a slightly odd choice there.  I digress.

Ok, so now: the craze.  Lippman challenged other women to follow her actions, and many of them have.  This is where I start to get confused: why is cancer awareness the motivation?  I thought it was about women’s natural beauty…but never mind.  Anything that promotes cancer awareness is a very, very good thing and should be praised, but the transition from one key message to another can only serve to dilute them both, which is a shame.  It gives nasty people like Novak’s critics the opportunity to criticise us for not knowing what we’re trying to achieve.

Also – and this is a big thing – awareness is all very well and good, but what will beat cancer is money, not publicity.  I wish that that weren’t the case, but it really is.  The research to find cures, training doctors and nurses, drugs and treatments, paying hospital and hospice staff’s salaries: all of these things require money, and lots of it from as many of us as possible.  Awareness leads to more people being inclined to donate, which is great and should absolutely keep being promoted.  The thing is that if you create awareness without donating, you may as well have just watched a Macmillan advert on television and told someone else that it was sad.  What’s the point in promoting awareness if you’re not aware enough to know what’s actually needed to cure cancer?

So, in the spirit of solidarity, feeling gutted for Novak and wanting to prove a point, here is my no make-up selfie:

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I’ve also just gone on the Macmillan website to donate.  In the long run, I think people will be ever so slightly more grateful for the money than for my face.

This is all just my opinion and I applaud everyone who wants to make a difference.  People are beautiful and cancer is shitty, and we should absolutely keep saying those things.  We should also be doing something about them.

I hope you have the kind of Thursday that makes Friday nervous in case it can’t live up to your expectations.

The Polymath Problem

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Hello and happy Tuesday, lovely reader!

This morning I met up with an old friend from university.  We don’t get to see each other often enough, so inevitably our coffee mornings consist of work updates, living situation discussions, frank bemusement at the behaviour of men and excessive giggling.

Sometimes (not always), we get around to discussing our mutual passion: the arts.  This friend of mine has a lifelong passion for the arts in all its forms: she is a wonderful baker of lovely cakes, she dances, makes amazing craft stuff and is, of course, a fellow Drama graduate.  She co-runs a charity called Ingeenium which does beautiful and inspiring work with vulnerable people, she is a nanny and she currently works for the government in a top-secret, slightly scary capacity.  Oh, and she’s also studying for her PhD.  Superwoman?  I think so, but I’ve never seen her wear a cape, so it’s hard to tell.  The posh term for this friend of mine is a polymath, which sounds like something out of Red Dwarf, but is actually a real thing.  I like that word, don’t you?

This morning she and I were discussing the problem with being a polymath, although the terms we actually couched it in were more along the lines of “What are we actually DOING with our lives?”  The answer is, currently at least, loads of stuff: we are both trying to pursue careers which support as financially as well as challenge and inspire us, we feel very strongly about a lot of things but are not sure what exactly to do about them, and on top of everything the spectre of George Osborne looms menacingly, reminding us that whatever we choose to do, we will still never be able to afford a mortgage.  Do shut up, George, there’s a dear.

My friend was saying that she wishes she could just have one job and pursue one goal, but I had two concerns about this:

1) Sure, it would be amazing to know from an early age exactly what you want to do with your life, but what happens if that dream fails?  What if your one ambition in life is to become a footballer, and you contract Motor Neurone Disease?  What happens if an aspiring doctor fails their exams?  How does a person recover from the abolition of a life-long dream?

2) Pursuing more than one ambition is not only practical in terms of personal investment; it’s a really, really good idea.  Being good at lots of things is something to be proud of, and caring about lots of things makes you a more rounded human being.  Working in several domains can actually improve your skills in certain areas: having acted (a bit), I consider myself to be a more empathetic director.  Besides, there are many awesome people who can be referred to as polymaths.

Here are a few examples:

1) Mark Watson

An excellent stand-up comedian, Mark Watson has also written some brilliant books.  His writing style is engaging, unbelievably touching in some places and (predictably) very funny.  The stories are completely unique, but the characters are very true to life (terrible phrase, that, but it’s the best I can think of).  His books are novels with little or no relation to his comedy career, so much so that it took me quite a while to twig that the author of some of my favourite books was the same person I’d seen on Mock the Week.

2) Kenneth Branagh

The man can act and direct simultaneously.  I have no idea how he does it (especially given that I can barely walk and talk at the same time), but his adaptations of Shakespearean plays into films are intelligent, moving and spectacularly performed.  Since acting and directing technically fall under the same sector I suppose he’s not technically a polymath, but I think he should get bonus points for being able to realise his artistic vision (ANOTHER terrible phrase – sorry, I’ve no idea what’s happened to my cliché filter today!) within two separate roles.

3) Laura Lexx

Another friend of mine from uni, Laura is excellent at pretty much everything she puts her mind to.  It’s mildly sickening.  A formidable academic success, Laura is also an excellent writer (of blogs, plays and more), an hysterically funny stand-up comedian, a queen bee of baking and “one of those” actors.  By “one of those”, I mean those people that you see on stage and wonder how on earth other performers can bear to compete.  She’s also a very lovely person with an excellent impersonation of a dinosaur in her repertoire.

4) Hannah Barnett

Yet another superwoman that I am lucky enough to be friends with, Hannah is *deep breath* a producer, actress, stage manager, unbelievably talented guitarist and singer with the voice of a particularly well-behaved angel.  Hannah is simultaneously the most organised and most easily distracted person I know.  That takes a lot of skill.  Why do I surround myself with these sickeningly talented people?  Oh, yeah – because they’re awesome.

5) Josh Widdicombe

Putting aside the fact that I love Josh Widdicombe quite a lot anyway, he is a brilliant example of why it’s good to have many talents.  Well-known as a stand-up comedian, he is also a talented DJ who hosts a weekly show on Xfm, which he uses as a platform to promote his friends and colleagues in the comedy world.  I am a massive fan of “paying it forward”, i.e. using your experience and opportunities to help others in similar situations.  (One of my favourite things about my university year group is that even now, we still tell each other when we see jobs or opportunities on IdeasTap that we think others in the group would be interested in.)  Josh Widdicombe is substantially more successful than any of my lot are right now, but he still uses his multiple roles to help out his mates.  I think that’s brilliant.

There are dozens if not hundreds of other examples of polymaths around, including national treasures like Stephen Fry and Michael Palin, and they are all to be congratulated on their ability to pursue many dreams.  It’s wonderful to have a passion in life, but I think that being good at and enjoying several activities is a more realistic and open-minded way to live.

By the way, actors turned models and anyone turned reality television “star” (please read enormous sarcasm into the speech marks around the word star, there), do not count.  Being pretty, greedy for money or desperate for attention cannot in any way be classed as a skill.  That’s just sad, and those people need a hug/slap/stern talking to.

Have a glorious afternoon!